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How a 2005 Sarah Silverman joke sparked death wishes from two Baptist pastors

Sarah Silverman
Stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman is blasting a Baptist pastor for calling for her death in a sermon.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Comedian Sarah Silverman is calling out an erroneous interpretation of her “Jesus Is Magic” comedy special that triggered a Florida pastor to call her “a witch,” “jezebel” and wish for her “untimely death.” The pastor has reportedly been fired from his church, but it was not because of Silverman.

The Jewish comedian blasted the pastor in a series of tweets on Thursday, sharing footage of his heated sermon that cited quips she made in her 2005 comedy routine without actually identifying them as jokes. It’s unclear when Adam Fannin of the Stedfast Jacksonville Church delivered the sermon, but Silverman believes it’s from about a year ago.

“Have you heard of this comedian, Sarah Silverman? You guys know what I’m talking about? She brags about [killing Jesus]!” Fannin said in the clip Silverman shared. “Listen, she is a witch. She is a jezebel. She is a God-hating whore of Zionism. I hope that God breaks her teeth out and she dies. She is a wicked person and she is, like, the perfect representation of religious Judaism… I pray that God would give her an untimely death, and it would be evident that it’s at the hand of God.”

Silverman captioned the video clips with “This is Adam Fannin of the Stedfast Baptist Church in Florida and he is going to get me killed” and “If I get murdered, start here.”

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Pastor Jonathan Shelley, a representative for the Jacksonville branch of the Stedfast Baptist Church, did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment on Friday. However, a video featuring Shelley regarding the debacle was posted on the church’s YouTube and Facebook pages on Friday discussing the Fannin-Silverman topic and addressing Silverman directly.

“I do have some good news for you: Adam Fannin’s been fired from the Stedfast Baptist Church. But it’s not for the reason that you think,” Shelley says. “It’s not for anything he said about you. It’s actually because six months ago, we found out this guy’s a liar, this guy’s a railer, this guy’s super-selfish. The character of him is to rail, so I’m not surprised that he would rail on someone like you.”

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A fundamentalist Baptist church in Sacramento preaches hatred of LGBTQ people. Its network of churches with similar views is growing, and experts on extremism say they are concerned about the churches’ spread of violent rhetoric through the internet.

Incidentally, Shelley goes on to refer to Silverman by the same insults Fannin used — and it’s not clear whether he’s being facetious. He then brings up other “blasphemous” and “brazen accusations” against Silverman’s un-Christian jokes, citing Bible verses condemning her.

“I’m not going to sit here and excuse his railings, but he is right that Sarah Silverman is wicked. It is right that she’s blasphemous. And you know? I have no love for those that hate the Lord,” he concluded.

The Emmy-winning comic has not yet reacted to that video, and her rep did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment. But she apparently traced Fannin’s tirade back to a right-wing meme that featured her in character alongside a quote from her special that said “I’m glad the Jews killed Jesus. I’d do it again!”

“And THAT is what triggered the pastor,” Silverman wrote in a statement after sharing the Fannin clips. “So, the person who made the meme knew it was comedy and intentionally repurposed it as real, knowing it would influence a swath of people who see it and share it everyday. And that’s America today. The incitement of violence based on lies and the disingenuous re-framings of truth.”

The “I Love You, America” star’s humor has significantly evolved from the shock-jock antics that began her career at age 17. She also discussed that, rampant outrage culture and more on the Ringer’s “The Bill Simmons Podcast” posted on Thursday.

“I said the opposite of what I really felt ... I was in character,” she explained of her humor at the time of her 2005 special. "[That pastor is] telling people to ... murder me from that meme. He quoted that meme. It’s this manipulation of what can be true.”

Simmons, a longtime friend of Silverman since her early days on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” was among the many celebrities who came to her defense — as well as that of irreverent comedy.

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“I just think comedy’s important, and once we start litigating it and you have a jury for every joke and every routine, versus allowing people to push the line and if they cross the line a little bit it’s OK. It doesn’t mean they should be vilified,” Simmons said on his podcast.

On Instagram, other comedians and Silverman’s celebrity followers, including Juliette Lewis, Chris D’Elia and Whitney Cummings sent the comic positive wishes.

“This is so scary,” commented “Broad City” star Ilana Glazer. “i’m sorry this is happening to you and that your material is being perverted like this. i hope you can take some sort of break cuz that ... is trauma.”

Sarah Silverman has been performing standup comedy since she was 17, giving her three decades’ worth of experience with hecklers, a perspective that, she says, shaped the way she approached her Hulu series, “I Love You, America.”

In another post, Silverman thanked her friends and followers for their support and even summoned compassion for Fannin.

“I’m finding myself so grateful for the support, feeling safer exposing it (maybe now he needs to pray that I DON’T get killed..) but also, feeling terribly for this man,” she wrote. “My guess is he was raised to believe these things, or, if not, learned to along the way. He must really believe what he says and it’s heartbreaking to me. I have to think that even with a loving family, it’s quite a scary life to believe with all your heart that you must submit to such a wrathful and loveless version of God. If you want to believe in something, why that? Why not love? Freedom? Kindness? Maybe even a lil science?”

She continued: “Anyway, I hope nobody knocks my teeth out and kills me and I hope this guy finds true peace in his life. I hope he knows that God Loves all his creations not because of who they are on their worst day but their best. And maybe this dude’s best is yet to come. (And by God I mean... whatever y’all think that is.)”

The Stedfast Baptist Church found itself in hot water earlier this year when a different pastor at its Fort Worth, Texas, location resigned after admitting to sleeping with prostitutes. That pastor, Donnie Romero, made headlines in 2016 following the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night nightclub in Orlando, Fla., for calling the victims “scum” and that God should “finish the job” and kill the survivors of the shooting, according to the Guardian.

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That same story quotes Fannin, who had been Romero’s deputy, and said that the pastor’s actions had caused people to quit the church.

Fannin has since started the Law of Liberty Baptist Church in Jacksonville and did not respond to The Times on Friday.


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